The U.S. Supreme Court has already intervened several times to block enforcement of various coronavirus-related restrictions on religious gatherings in Democrat-led states, such as New York and California.
On Friday, the high court intervened once again with a 5-4 ruling that issued an injunction against California’s ban on in-home religious gatherings attended by more than three separate households, Breitbart reported.
The five conservative justices — Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas — sided with a California pastor and his fellow Christians in opposition to California’s limitations on residential religious gatherings, such as Bible studies and prayer meetings.
Chief Justice John Roberts and the three liberal jurists — Stephen Breyer, Elana Kagen and Sonia Sotomayor — sided with California in favor of the restrictions.
In the unsigned majority opinion, the justices chided the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for its “erroneous” ruling on the matter and “failure” to issue an injunction earlier. The majority later noted that “This is the fifth time the Court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious exercise.”
In granting the requested injunction against California’s restrictions, the majority wrote that “government regulations are not neutral and generally applicable … whenever they treat any comparable secular activity more favorably than religious exercise,” and further noted that “It is no answer that a State treats some comparable secular businesses or other activities as poorly as or even less favorably than the religious exercise at issue.”
“Second, whether two activities are comparable for purposes of the Free Exercise Clause must be judged against the asserted government interest that justifies the regulation at issue,” the majority continued. “Comparability is concerned with the risks various activities pose, not the reasons why people gather.”
Third, the majority noted that it was incumbent upon a government to prove that specific risks were involved in certain activities and that, barring justifications, must pursue the least restrictive measures against “First Amendment activity,” such as the free exercise of religion or freedom of assembly.
The justices wrote, “California treats some comparable secular activities more favorably than at-home religious exercise, permitting hair salons, retail stores, personal care services, movie theaters, private suites at sporting events and concerts, and indoor restaurants to bring together more than three households at a time,” and later added, “The State cannot ‘assume the worst when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work.'”
The Associated Press reported that California had argued that this case was a moot point since the challenged restrictions were set to be lifted by April 15.
The court’s majority refused to accept that argument, however, and noted that, even if the restrictions were actually lifted, “officials with a track record of ‘moving the goalposts’ retain authority to reinstate those heightened restrictions at any time.”
The AP also noted that Justice Kagen, joined by Breyer and Sotomayor, offered up a dissent which argued that there was no unequal treatment between religious and secular activities in terms of small residential gatherings, and that comparing in-home religious gatherings to indoor retail outlets like “hardware stores and hair salons” was akin to providing equal treatment to “apples and watermelons.”